The latest trend in children’s videogames is to combine them with collectable toy lines for a rapidly expanding genre dubbed "toys to life". The plastic figures and toys have an NFC chip inside that, when placed on a USB peripheral, unlock content in the game.
Children love it because they get a toy and a game in one. Publishers are keen because this has turned failing movie tie-in video-games into a billion dollar industry. Parents however are less keen when the costs to access everything in the game spirals.
But while it’s true that if you buy everything for Lego Dimensions, Skylanders SuperChargers or Disney Infinity 3.0 - the three latest rivals in that area - you would have to pay several hundred pounds for each, there are some simple ways to keep the costs down and still have a great time.
That's why we've put together some tips and insights on ways for your children to enjoy the toys to life craze without it denting your bank account too much.
Exhaust the starter pack
Each of the main games in the toys to life category first come into the home in a starter pack that provides the game itself, a USB peripheral that plugs into a videogame console and a clutch of toy characters. The packs generally retail for between £40-80.
Although these games are designed to signpost to players what buying more toys would let them access, the starter packs do let you complete the main story without additional purchases. To get good value it’s crucial that you make the most of this before spending more money.
Not only does finishing the game with just the starter pack mean you restrict your initial spend, it also means that you get a better idea of what purchasing extra characters will get you. You can then focus your spend on only those characters that are crucial to your or your child's enjoyment.
Understanding what you get for each additional purchase is again important for ensuring good value.
In Skylanders Superchargers, the game focuses on vehicles as well as different characters, so you should focus on getting one of each type - land, sea and air - as they each unlock a set of different races in the game.
In Disney Infinity 3.0, you may want to buy characters that match the era of the play set you are using as you can then use them straight away rather than having to collect in-game items that allow other characters to work.
In Lego Dimensions, you should purchase characters from franchises not in the starter pack (for example, not from DC Comics, The Lego Movie or The Lord of the Rings) as this will unlock a new open world area as well as the new character.
Slowly expanding these games and completing everything you can for each additional character before buying another one will ensure you don’t over spend — also you will discover more secrets ready for the next addition.
The toys to- ife games are a big investment and the publishers know this. This is why they offer excellent backwards compatibility. Skylanders and Disney Infinity can this year be played without a starter pack; using your old portal or Infinity Base. You can download a digital version of the game on your console.
This is both cheaper and more convenient as it avoids yet more plastic tat piling up in the living room.
Last year’s characters are also a good route to value. Because the new games will support all the old characters you can reuse favourites from your collection or track down bargains online. Skylanders is particularly good at this and lets you play using any character from its games dating back to 2011. The old characters can even be used to drive the new vehicles this year which is a great touch.
Choose your game wisely
As the toys to life genre has grown it is increasingly hard to play all the games cost effectively. A better approach is to find the game that includes the franchises and play-style best suited to your family and stick to it.
Spreading investment too thinly across multiple games means that it is hard to get good value from them all. By focusing on one game in particular year-on-year, the investment grows as does the value and enjoyment.
Consider non-toy driven alternatives
Of course one way to avoid over spending here is to opt out and find alternatives that aren’t driven by the collectable toy-line business model.
Alongside Lego Dimensions there are still stand alone Lego games. Lego Marvel’s Avengers is an upcoming title for January next year and we already have the excellent Lego Jurassic World released in 2015.
In terms of Disney Infinity there was a very good Toy Story 3 game that offered similar Toy Box creation tools that is available at half the price. It is simpler but because of that it is also more accessible to younger players.
There are quite a lot of brawling games similar to Skylanders. One that our families have enjoyed over the years is Castle Crashers. Another example is Tearaway Unfolded on PS4.
As long as you go into the wonderful world of toys to life with a little restraint and understand it is a collectable toy-line, there is a lot of great fun and value to be had. As we've said before though, you will need to say “no” on occasion.